Oil depletion and its effects on the American way of life
Lect. Dr. Cristian Pralea
February 7, 2019
The American way of life finds itself threatened by the suggested depletion of oil, a
resource that it has been enjoying for the past century, at a very reasonable price.1 It has been
foreseen that, because of the poor judgements made by the U.S Government of investing in
living spaces that do not prove to be efficacious in the long run, oil will run out during the
next few decades.2 Not only did the U.S find itself on the winning side of the wars, it also
became head of economic strength across the globe, fact that encouraged urban development
and the domination of multinational corporations. This kind of lucrative development
naturally found itself in need of workforce;3 workforce that was encouraged to relocate or
adopt the suburban lifestyle that ultimately gave birth to a country-wide car craze and the
shaping of a unique way of life.
The suburban way of life can be related to both the American frontier, as well as the
belief that the city is a crowded, toxic place in which the masses have no place or desire for
permanent settlement. The American frontier is tied to the potent myths of conquering and
discovery, tasks believed to be divine, fueling the forging of those myths into three-ton steel
beasts that highlight the American pride.4
Advertising makes for a very ironic type of presentation of the sports utility vehicles
(SUV). Every commercial presenting such a vehicle, portrays it in such a way as to make you
feel that everything outside your car is the dangerous and the uncomfortable that you need to
tackle and explore to the very core from your cozy behemoth. This helps maintain the
1 Gregory Greene, The End Of Suburbia: Oil Depletion And The Collapse Of The American Dream”,
film (Canada: The Electric Wallpaper Co., 2004).
2 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.
3 Karen Brodkin, “How Jews Became White Folks And What That Says About Race In America””,
in Race, Class, And Gender In The United States: An Integrated Study, 6th ed. (repr., New York:
Worth Publishers, 2004), 44.
4 David Goewey, “Careful, You May Run Out Of Planet”, in Signs Of Life In The U.S.A.: Readings
On Popular Culture For Writers, 5th ed. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006), 120-121.
mentality that people must own such dependable machines for their daily travel to and from
the bustling city, despite the fact that such monsters tear through the very Earth that they
promote as unsafe, uncomfortable and ready to explore by chugging gallons upon gallons of
fuel that have to come out of somewhere.5 This heavy consumerism that we practice and
think we deserve is the main pillar that supports the suburban way of life, away from all
contemporary problems and submerged in false impressions that this beautiful dream will
never end, that we will keep fueling it for as long as we could possibly want.
Such perceptions have determined a huge increase in the sale of cars, especially SUVs
that do not even meet the minimal gas mileage requirements in most cases. And this will only
take a turn for the worse in the following years, as more and more barrels of oil are added to
the average consumption in the U.S.6 The more we consume, the more we need to produce
and the more we produce, the more we feel we can consume. Given the fact that oil is a non-
renewable resource, it will not be long until we come to witness the steep downfall that we
have so long ago anticipated and that we have so carelessly overlooked.
Experts from the Energy Information Administration indicate that, during a period of
sixty years (1949-2009), the petroleum consumption rate of the U.S. has quadrupled, from an
estimated six million barrels a day to over twenty million barrels a day at the beginning of the
2000s, while the production has been steadily decreasing on all sectors following the 1970s.
This factor explains and clarifies the existence of an almost parallel line of net imports of
petroleum-based products that closely follows the line of consumption.7 Given the steady
increase in oil consumption, the need for importing such an indispensable resource turned to
5 Goewey, “Careful, You May Run Out Of Planet” 126.
6 Goewey, 127.
7 U.S Energy Information Administration, “Annual Energy Review” (Washington, D.C.: National
Energy Information Center, 2010).
the Middle East, which has now been a constant supplier of oil for the U.S.8 As the Energy
Information Administration estimates, during the early 1950s the U.S. has started to consume
on average much more than it could output on its own, so measures had to be taken in order
to keep the wheels turning.9
Michael C. Ruppert argues, in the documentary The End Of Suburbia, that ‘all oil
production, whether it’s in one oil field, or one country or the planet as a whole, always
follows a bell curve.’.10 This aims to explain the general growth in oil production on a global
scale from the past few decades to the present times. It also foresees, however, that a peak has
taken place or will be taking place very soon. At this point, it is expected that we will not be
able to extract oil at a higher rate and will soon after be in a constant downfall of petroleum-
based goods production which will spark various crises across the globe, beginning with huge
increases in oil price, demolishing the very foundation that the American suburban way of
life bases itself on.11 Due to the poor fertility of the soil that the U.S. uses to grow crops, a
large amount of petroleum-based chemicals need to be injected for it to be able to produce the
amount of food needed. By connecting the dots, we can deduce that when the oil becomes
scarce, the average person will not be able to cope with the exponential increase in food
prices and other commodities.
Keeping the energy that is necessary for linking the producer to the end consumer and
the preparation of the food off the charts, there is ten times more energy involved in bringing
the food in proper condition for consumption than the food itself gives off as useful energy
when actually consumed. 12 This has a disastrous potential of throwing agriculture and other
8 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.
9 U.S Energy Information Administration, “Annual Energy Review”
10 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.
11 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.
12 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.
means of food production totally off balance, resulting in the acute obligation of a much
greater part of the community members getting actively involved in securing the basic
nutritive requirements of their immediate community. This comes down to producing a
greater portion of the necessary food locally, rather than relying on cross-country food
The mass way of thinking, out of sheer fear turns to beautiful-looking myths that
promise sustainability to a level similar or even greater than the one that tremendous oil
consumption actually produces. Reality however, very aggressively points out that those are
just widely accepted delusions that will never see the light of day when it comes to practical
usage scenarios.13 One such delusion is the future of hydrogen-based transport that is thought
to be able to replace petroleum-based transport altogether, which has been proven wrong
countless times, in the respect that hydrogen costs more energy to actually produce than it can
give off as useful energy. Two of the best methods of obtaining hydrogen are either through
electricity, which defeats the purpose of using electricity as a valuable resource in itself for
transport and other sectors, or using the thermal decomposition of methane. The latter method
is just a very inconvenient and expensive way of producing inefficient power output methods
through adding yet another natural gas consumer. It will just use up the natural gas in a
reaction that will output much less energy than it goes in in the first place.14 It is increasingly
more visible that everyone will need to be able to understand that a change needs to be made
and to actively contribute to it. The decline we are expected to fall into can ultimately be a
favorable factor in accelerating the ideas and developments on new types of fuels for our very
13 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.
14 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.
It is almost certain that, following the havoc wreaked by the steady decrease in global
production after the peak oil production has been reached, everyone will be desperately in
search of new, more convenient living areas that grant access to as many commodities as
possible as close as possible to the end users. This will mark the end of the era of suburban
living and heavy consumerism and will open the path to a whole new era, that of the ‘New
Urbanism’. This concept claims to be beneficial by “Giving people many choices for living
an urban lifestyle in sustainable, convenient and enjoyable places, while providing the
solutions to peak oil and climate change”.15 There will be an acute need to rebalance most
lifestyles, so this project aims to make everything more convenient even without the use of
fossil fuels by shrinking distances to more manageable, walkable chunks, opting for electric
transportation methods and rely on clean, renewable energy to power those new spaces and
on top of it all, to power the hopes and dreams for a better, cleaner future in which we will
have a far greater understanding of energy manipulation than the one we have today.16
The U.S. has been, for quite some time, feeding on the idea that it represents an
exploring nation that must thrive to uncover every portion of the unknown and is still living
with this principle in mind, even if there practically is noting else left to explore. This is said
to be part of the mechanism that drives the American consciousness towards being more and
more attracted to the idea of ‘a lot’ the less there is. This is seen as an act of ignorance and
denial on behalf of the American people choosing to not reflect upon their past, current and
future approaches on life and their probable negative effects, turning instead to means of
making the most out of the present.17
15 “New Urbanism”, Newurbanism.Org, accessed 2 February 2019, http://www.newurbanism.org.
16 Greene, The End Of Suburbia.
17 Goewey, 128.
Everything that is happening to this contemporary way of living based on accelerating
resource depletion might just be the wake-up call we need but are not brave enough to listen
to just yet. The time will come though, when we will have to adapt and start acting rationally
and with much more compassion towards the greater good of humanity.
Brodkin, Karen. “How Jews Became White Folks And What That Says About Race In
America”. In Race, Class, And Gender In The United States: An Integrated Study, 38-
50. Paula S. Rothenberg, 6th ed. Reprint, New York: Worth Publishers, 2004.
Goewey, David. “Careful, You May Run Out Of Planet”. In Signs Of Life In The U.S.A.:
Readings On Popular Culture For Writers, 119-128. Jack Solomon and Sonia
Maasik, 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006.
Greene, Gregory. The End Of Suburbia: Oil Depletion And The Collapse Of The American
Dream. Film. Canada: The Electric Wallpaper Co., 2004.
“New Urbanism”. Newurbanism.Org. Accessed 2 February 2019.
U.S Energy Information Administration. “Annual Energy Review”. Washington, D.C.:
National Energy Information Center, 2010.